The Tea Party is Present: From Humble Beginnings to a Real Chance for Political Control

A Charismatic Conservative Movement Seeks to Make a Strong Impact at Midterm Elections


Published: October 21, 2010

Unless you’ve made a concentrated effort to avoid the mainstream media in the last year, the phrase “Tea Party” probably elicits very different imagery today than it did when you completed your first introductory American history course in high school.

However, members of the modern Tea Party movement insist that they are fighting for largely the same principles as their eighteenth century counterparts, and as the movement gains significant momentum, it’s clear that many agree.

If you place any faith in the polls, the numbers are unanimous. While the vortex of compromise expands between the nation’s two political parties with each proposed bill, so too does the gap between the parties and their incumbent congressman.

The Gallup Organization found that as of early September, both Republicans and Democrats shared a congressional disapproval rating of around 70 percent, the highest it’s been in a decade. This number becomes increasingly important as Nov. 2 approaches, when midterm elections will decide the fate of over a third of the Senate, and members of the House.

The Tea Party is banking on this discontent to continue riding the success that they’ve already seen in states like Massachusetts. They credit themselves with playing a significant role in the highly publicized upset that put Scott Brown in the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, making him the first Republican to hold the position since 1972.

For the Tea Party, Brown represents many of the principles that define the movement, namely two of those found in its mission statement: greater “fiscal responsibility” and a more “constitutionally limited government.” Brown was also seen as a fresh face and a departure from Washington Republicans, a stigma that the Tea Party has relied on in launching the campaigns of almost all its candidates.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that the Tea Party doesn’t belong to the Republicans” said Natasha Pascetta, FCLC ’11, a political science minor and supporter of the Tea Party. Pascetta sees the movement as a healthy reminder to Republicans that they “need to get back to the core values and principles of the party. She said, “We’re not just mad at the left; we’re mad at the right as well. The great thing about America is that when you’re not happy about something, you can work to change it.”

The beginnings of the Tea Party movement can be traced back to 2009, when the first “Tea Party” protests occurred. On Feb. 27, 2009, the protests were held across a number of United States cities, coordinated by

The idea for the protests was born out of a comment CNBC editor Rick Santelli made on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, expressing criticism over Obama’s Homeowners and Affordability Plan, and calling for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest what he felt was the promotion of excessive government control.

A year and a half later and the movement has had remarkable success in battling for some of America’s highest offices, backed by some of the country’s most influential politicians.

It’s this support that has led many liberals to question whether the movement is actually the “grassroots” organization it claims to be.

“I see the Tea Party as an organization of big money,” said Ian Christie , FCLC ’11, who worked as a field organizer for the Obama campaign in Ohio. “They like to portray themselves as a movement made up of citizens, but the reality is that behind them stands a lot of big-dollar donors.”

However, for some, the political players behind the movement are less important than the momentum it’s already gained.

“Their money allows them to bring the horse to water,” said Thomas De Luca, professor of political science, “but the fact that so many people are willing to drink is important to note. People feel the ground shifting beneath them. They see the economic bad times, and for many this translates into resentment against government or liberals. To them, Obama embodies these changes.”

Some, like Christie, don’t believe the Tea Party will fix the problem either.

“Their agenda has no political viability,” he argued. “They can get elected on these things, but the reality is that their plans are not coherent.”

He views the Tea Party as a reactionary symptom of “a lot of people’s insecurities and fears,” people who are “unwilling to actually do the work to figure out how this country will move forward.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the Tea Party will have an opportunity to put their agenda into action. Nov. 2 could mark a political shift in Congress that would make President Obama’s next two years far more stressful.

However, as Pascetta pointed out, it’s not only Democrats who have to be worried about the midterms. Republicans have already watched as candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller upset their picks for Congress in the primaries.

In fact, many Democrats find the Tea Party surge hopeful, as they anticipate the far right leanings of the Party will inhibit their chances of success in the midterms.

Like it or not, what started as a few rallies a little over a year ago has become a force worth watching in American politics. With their first series of major challenges still ahead, it will be interesting to see if the Tea Party movement can maintain its  charisma if the Democrat’s midterm wishes come true and what was supposed to be a seed of hope for the Republicans becomes the poison that condemns them to another two years.


Paul’s campaign evolved from an online grassroots movement aimed at displacing Republican Kentucky senator Jim Bunning, which is precisely what he did on May 18, when he garnered the Republican nomination for Senate by a 23.4 percent margin. The victory was a big one for the Tea Party, and Paul called his win a “chastisement” of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Paul’s staunch opposition to big government has made him a favorite with the Party.


After baffling both parties by narrowly defeating nine-term Representative Michael Castle in the Senate primaries, Christine O’Donnell has become a national celebrity. Her career as a politician and activist has awarded her both praise and criticism. However, she can attribute most of her notoriety to the archive of quotations that various media outlets have dug up from her past, including now famous reference to witchcraft.   She is very conservative on most issues, both morally and politically.